Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré 

Broadband Commission for Digital Development

Working Group on Broadband & Gender

 Opening Remarks

20 September 2013, New York, USA

Distinguished commissioners,
Valued members of this working group,

Good afternoon – it is a real pleasure to be here.

This is a really important Working Group for the Commission – because it has a big chance to make a big impact on a big challenge. And of course, we are talking here among converted people, but our job is to go out there and convert people.

The challenge is getting all the women and girls in the world online, and encouraging half of the world’s population to dream big!

A year ago, Geena Davis asked the Broadband Commission to set up this Working Group – and I was delighted when the Commissioners agreed, and demonstrated their commitment to this important cause.

At the Broadband Commission’s meeting in March, in Mexico, generously hosted by Carlos Slim, Commissioners endorsed an ambitious new target designed to spur female access to the power of ICTs, which calls for ‘gender equality in broadband access by the year 2020’.

In the meantime, this Working Group has developed its report, entitled ‘Doubling Digital Opportunities: Enhancing the Inclusion of Women & Girls in the Information Society’, written collaboratively, based on the collective inputs of the Working Group.

This report will be published tomorrow, and is a major outcome from this working group – and let me take this occasion to thank everyone who contributed to it, and especially to the lead author, Pippa Biggs, who spent much of her summer working on this report, so thank you very much for the excellent job.

For me, the key finding of the report based on ITU’s data is that there are 200 million fewer ‘missing’ women online, compared with men. Women are coming online later, and more slowly, than men, especially in developing countries.

But what does that global figure of 200 million fewer women mean? It means 200 million missed opportunities.

Based on data profiles from Brazil, which is a very good representative developing country, among those 200 million women who are currently not online, there would have been:

  • 75% (150 million women) who would have engaged in online social media;
  • 86 million women who would have searched for healthcare information;
  • 50 million women who would have searched for work and submitted a CV online in search of a job or helped create a job – today, ICTs is not just the means to look for jobs – it is a means to create jobs;
  • 38 million women who would have found out more about their rights as workers;
  • and 26 million women who would have followed an online course.

I think you’ll all agree with me that these are large numbers of women denied access to great opportunities – opportunities that developing countries cannot afford to miss out on.

And I always remember the story told to me by my good friend, the former Minister of South Africa, Jay Naidoo: back in the 1990s he went to a village and asked a little girl, what do you want to be when you grow up? And the little girl said, I want to be alive. And that’s the reality for many children in the developing world.

We have a precious opportunity here to ensure that women and girls are fully included in the expansion of the digital world, and that their voice and presence are shaping the United Nations development agenda and strategies beyond the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

Dear friends and colleagues

At the same time, research by some of the organizations in this room has demonstrated that women may be afraid of going online, or constrained from going online, due to dangers – real and perceived – which may await them there.

We need to work harder to overcome these fears and ensure that safeguards are in place to overcome potential online dangers with regard to women and girls and to ensure that the technologies are positively used.

I was in Costa Rica last week – we had our Global Youth Summit, and there was the presence of the First Lady of Nigeria, ITU’s Ambassador for COP, and we had the Statement coming from youth, which will be delivered to the GA next week by President Chinchilla.

There has been a spate of recent news stories about girls driven to self-harm or even suicide through social media harassment and aggression. It is not just women and girls becoming connected to the Internet – other people can also then connect with women and girls.

And there is clear new evidence showing that online trolling is linked with domestic violence and abuse – and cannot simply be dismissed as an annoyance.

Partly in response to some of these challenges, ITU has its Child Online Protection (COP) initiative to protect all children (both boys and girls) against online dangers.

Dear friends and colleagues,

Let me challenge you:

While it’s great that we have a report, what are we going to do next, and how can we go about putting the report’s key recommendations into practice?

Technology offers large-scale opportunities to empower women and girls, creating a systemic cultural shift by improving how they are portrayed and represented. These are the tools that will ultimately allow women and girls to reach their full potential and ultimate goals.

So let us all join hands to achieve the new gender target from the Broadband Commission.

Let’s make sure that everyone is involved in making the net a safer, accessible and affordable.

Let’s think about ‘abc’ – affordable broadband connectivity and content; or even ‘abcd’ – affordable broadband content development.

This is the real challenge – we are talking to the converted here in this room, but we need to address the unconverted.

We need to go to the General Assembly and talk with everyone – and we have to do it – we have no choice, because we have to save humankind.

Thank you.